In my family, when we drive on vacation, we have our set rest stops we visit when taking a familiar trip. As we have family in Baltimore, the rest stop on Interstate 95 in Delaware has always been a favorite destination along our journey. When traveling on an unfamiliar path, I may stop at a rest stop but may not notice or remember nor document its location. The objective is to get to our destination; the rest stop is just a moment in the journey.
For me, there is something intriguing about observing people and their disposition when at a rest stop. Some look awfully tired, while others appear full of excitement. At times, families may be taking pictures so that the stop in their journey is documented and can become a memory.
This week we finally catch up with the rest of the Jewish people, as far as kriat haTorah is concerned, by reading the double parsha of Matot and Masei. Since Pesach, we have been a week behind Israel according to parsha order.
The Torah details 42 segments of the journey of Bnei Yisrael through the desert on the way to Eretz Yisrael. Were these stations along the way significant? What was the need to document each rest stop on the journey of our nation to reach its objective, entering the Land of Israel? Rav Nissan Alpert, zt”l, explains that stations are metaphors for our journey through life. Stations, segments, rest stops, are symbolic of the challenges we face as individuals through our own personal journey. When we reach a rest stop, we tend to take stock of how far we have traveled already on our journey, and how much more we have to travel. While this is true when driving in a car, it is also true when we face our personal emotional and spiritual journeys. A rest stop affords us the opportunity to look at how many miles we have traveled, and gives us the courage to continue our journey with the words of “we are almost there” ringing in our ears.
For many of us, a rest stop gives us a chance to look back and internalize the lessons of our journey up to the current point, and adjust the next segment of our travel accordingly. For some, it may mean our ability to make amends with errors of judgment in the past, and resolve to strengthen our sense of self moving forward. For others, it may be a chance to memorialize the happiness of past experiences, to reflect upon that which we may have lost and gather the courage to move forward in a different path.
Rav Alpert suggests that people experience failures in life’s journey differently. While some respond with resignation and disappointment, others treat failure as an opportunity for growth. The journey of Bnei Yisrael in the desert included many bumps and curves. Each stop along the way had a lesson within it. For this reason, the Torah detailed each location. With the help and support of Hashem, they survived and eventually thrived, through the acceptance of responsibility, tenacity, courage and the ability to learn from their errors.
The same recipe can be effective for our own personal journeys through life and the challenges that come our way. So, as we continue our summer journeys, don’t just let a rest stop pass by as we are on our way. Yes, a “rest stop” can be a life-altering experience.
Rabbi Eliezer Zwickler is rabbi of Congregation AABJ&D in West Orange, NJ, and is a licensed clinical social worker in private practice. Rabbi Zwickler can be reached at [email protected].